TribeLA Magazine book review: Harley and Me (Embracing Risk on the Road to a More Authentic Life) by bestselling author Bernadette Murphy
By JANICE BREMEC BLUM
Empowering, inspirational, spiritual: We tend to hear these words a lot, so much so that they can lose their meaning. But in relation to Los Angeles author Bernadette Murphy’s memoir, Harley and Me: Embracing Risk on the Road to a More Authentic Life, those words have a rebirth and so does the author. In the fictional cult film Thelma & Louise, two women take to the open road to find freedom, but eventually drive off a cliff. In this memoir, Murphy also takes to the open road, but doesn’t nose dive into a canyon, instead she dives into our hearts and into our brains and shows us how to live a more authentic life.
Now in middle-age, Murphy discovers what it means to take risks. Married young, she raised her children as the perfect “Winnie the Pooh” type of mom but now finds herself amongst the ranks of a lot of women during this time, embracing an empty nest and in turn finding herself empty.
Murphy’s first risk is divorce after 22 years of marriage. “I am learning to make my way through life as a solo person, no longer tied by traditional family bonds, but a loner.” Her fears about “How would I pay the bills…what was I going to do about that rat under the sink…how was I going to navigate my sexual behavior as a newly single woman?” she learns to manage, but learning to reshape her life is the biggest risk of all. For that lesson, Murphy purchases an all-black Sportster Iron 883 Harley motorcycle she names Izzy, and goes on a cross country journey.
But it’s the journey she takes with herself that outweighs the excitement that the open road offers. Harley and Me, not only tells Murphy’s story about risk taking in middle-age, but also educates us through scientific research how taking risks alters our brain chemistry.
There are all types of risks, not just dare-devil ones, and “Our brains and bodies are biochemically programmed to thrive on change. Challenge will open up and show us a new side of ourselves” says Murphy. There are scientific tidbits throughout the book that explain a middle-aged woman’s oxytocin hormones and the consequences of plunging estrogen levels that help us, as well as Murphy, understand her compelling whim to not only drive a motorcycle but to ice-climb, paddle a six-person canoe in Polynesia, and reignite her sex drive.
She teaches us that the aging brain needs more risk, rather than less, in order to stay not only healthy but to live more authentically. Murphy constructs her book into three sections: Look, Lean, Roll. Taken from her motorcycle safety class, those are the basic requirements one needs to remember while riding and Murphy weaves those same principles into her story. In the Look section, Murphy also looks, not just at the road she takes with her bike, but the road she is now taking with her life.
After the death of her father (her mentally ill mother had already passed) she “looks” at her middle-age realizing that she is “…the next generation up to bat. No more buffer between me and death.” The Lean section takes us on her motorcycle trip with her bestie, Rebecca. Murphy now has a “leaner” life being newly single and is not afraid to share with the reader the unfortunate part of her solo existence, “I miss sex.” Murphy is not afraid to share her personal intimacy that she experiences while riding, “I now find myself orgasming on a motorcycle.”
It is these details that brings us deeper into her story and strengthens her as a relatable author. The last section, Roll, shares other stories of Murphy’s risk taking and eventually delves more into her research as well as her mantra: Be. Here. Now.
Murphy wrote a book that is riveting, intimate, and a fun read. Learning about our four brain chemicals that determine our personality traits is interesting however, I found Murphy’s personal experience even more intriguing.
Not every woman is going to embrace mid-life on a Harley, but living vicariously through Murphy’s travels gives us insight into what it means to embrace mid-life rather than complain about it. Her story and her book is compelling. What a joy it was to spend an afternoon in my easy chair riding on a bike with Bernadette Murphy.
Murphy, Bernadette M. Harley and Me: Embracing Risk on the Road to a More Authentic Life. Berkeley, California: Counterpoint Press, 2016/2017. Print.
Janice Bremec Blum, Editor in Chief – TribeLA Magazine